A partial return to indefinite sentencing

By Jess C. Weade - Fayette Co. Prosecuting Attorney

Good morning, afternoon, evening, midnight, or whatever other time of day you find yourself reading this article. Recently, I was discussing with Ryan Carter, editor of this publication, a desire to do more outreach on the part of the Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. As a result of that, we decided that the Prosecutor’s Office would contribute a monthly column to the Record-Herald, detailing and/or highlighting various jobs and people in the office, as well as changes in the law, or other office functions. Most months, I will write the column, but from time to time, you may hear from others in the office, or we may highlight them, or highlight a particular law enforcement officer that has gone “above and beyond” so to speak.

In this first column of the series, my goal is to highlight a change in the sentencing laws of the State of Ohio that were recently enacted. For the vast, vast majority of persons sentenced for felony offenses in Ohio since 1996, a definite time period of incarceration has been the sentence. Whether that term be two years or 20 years, at the time of sentencing, it was known the amount of time the defendant in a case had to serve. In 2019 that has changed. For felonies of the first and second third degree, indefinite sentencing, or sentencing for a particular time period has returned.

The practical effect of this is that those convicted of felonies of the first or second degree will have a definite minimum time that they spend in the Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, also known as prison. For those that may not know felonies of the first degree are generally the most serious. Other than the homicide statutes which note a lot of unclassified felonies, this change in the law is for the most serious offenders that we deal with. Those individuals will also have a sentencing “tail” that could cause them to serve additional time in prison. Whether they serve the additional time is up to a variety of factors that I won’t get into here.

Putting this into actual effect of how it impacts us, those charged with, and those victims of crime, prior to March 21, 2019, someone who committed a Burglary that is a felony of the second degree could be sentenced to probation, or a definite term of incarceration of two, three, four, five, six, seven, or eight years. Now that same person committing the same crime would be sentenced to a definite term of the previously stated time frames, plus one-half of the sentence imposed by the trial judge as the sentencing maximum. If the judge issues a sentence of four years, then the ultimate sentence would four to six years.

We do not anticipate this changing anything in terms of how our office makes sentencing recommendations. For the last eight years, we have focused on sentencing recommendations based on the amount of time that we believe a certain defendant will serve in prison, and we intend to keep our sentencing recommendations that way. Whether the defendant is able to comply with the rules and regulations while in prison to receive release at the low end of the time frame will be on them in our opinion.

Hopefully, this brief column has helped you understand a little bit more about our criminal justice system. I look forward to writing the next one.

Jess Weade is the Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney.

By Jess C. Weade

Fayette Co. Prosecuting Attorney